Savonlinna


Olavinlinna, SavonlinnaImage via Wikipedia
Olavinlinna through the trees


This Summer Break Esther and I are in Finland and the other day we took a day tour to see Savonlinna castle. It has been a glorious summer here in Finland, according a local we spoke to, the longest stretch of unbroken warm days in Finland since 1925. But there had also been a large storm last Tuesday which had resulted in our path being littered with a swathe of fallen-down trees.

Driving through Finland, you will notice one recurring theme: lakes and trees. About 75% of the land mass in Finland is forest and 10% lakes. Nevertheless, after seeing a lot of trees, stunning vistas of lakes and many cute red and yellow painted wooden houses in the woods we finally arrived at the town of Savonlinna and after finding a parking spot we walked to the castle which is actually called Olavinlinna - St. Olaf’s Castle (linna is Finnish for castle).

The castle itself is a magnificent sight to see as it’s tall towers with penants flying from the top emerge from behind the trees. It sits on an island in the midst of a lake and was originally built by the King of Sweden as a fortress to safeguard the eastern-most reaches of his kingdom. It was built at a time when the neighbouring Muscovite King Ivan III had only recently annexed the Republic of Novgorod and thus Sweden and Russia had a common border.

Destruction of Novgorod by Ivan IIIImage via Wikipedia
Destruction of the Novgorod Republic by Ivan III
The guided tour of Olavinlinna is the only way that you are allowed access to the tops of the towers. But it is worth it as the views over the lake and surrounding forests are spectacular. One thing that I quite appreciate about the Finnish countryside is how self-contained most towns and settlements are; unlike in Australia and in fact every other country I’ve visited, Finnish towns aren’t surrounded by a ring of a ugly suburbia that gets progressively thinner and more scraggly the further it extends from the centre. Even really tiny Finnish towns seem to have many apartment blocks and the border between town and country is quite stark often with apartment blocks seeming to rise out of the middle of the forest. This leaves the wilderness quite pristine and untarnished by ugly suburban housing.

Our guide was a young Finnish man who’s shaved or bald head gave him an uncanny resemblance to Tobias F√ľnke of Arrested Development fame. With the only exception being that this tour-guide was sporting the long yet thin and scraggly beard typical of medieval-recreationist types. Also, whilst his vocabulary attested to a good familiarity with English, he spoke incredibly slowly - even by Finnish standards - and I couldn’t but wonder if he was being ironic when at the beginning of our tour he advised us that if he was speaking too fast we should just tell him and he would speak even slower for us.

After leaving the castle we had dinner at nearby Valo restaurant. Which serves a delicious Stuffed Chicken Breast with Chanterelle Mushroom Risotto which I happily recommend.
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